Football: Pot overheats as Bingham gets stirring

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The Independent Online
A World Cup deciding tie that throws together two neighbouring countries and which marks the retirement of one of the managers involved hardly needs hyping, yet up went the temperature before tonight's all-Ireland clash, with Billy Bingham denouncing Jack Charlton's side as a 'bunch of mercenaries'.

The Belfast game represents Bingham's emotional finale after 17 years in charge, and he is making the most of the occasion to strike a retaliatory blow after Charlton wrote them off at the start of the campaign.

According to the Northern Ireland manager, the Republicans are happy to be picked 'because they couldn't find a way of making it with England or Scotland. I take a totally cynical view of the whole business. I am not prepared to skirt the issue, the same as I am happy to state it is our intention to stuff the Republic.'

Billy's blast has infuriated his visitors who, with victory, will book their place in the World Cup finals. On their arrival here last night, where they were met by an extraordinary security operation, Charlton said: 'I don't know what Billy is on about.

'Only Andy Townsend and John Aldridge have qualified through their grandparents; the rest have direct Irish parentage. What am I to do, ignore good players just because they happen to have been born in the UK? I have stuck strictly to Fifa rules and Northern Ireland, England and the rest have the right to recruit players in the same way.'

Aldridge, the Republic's leading scorer in Group Three, said: 'My commitment to Ireland is total, my pedigree is Irish and so is my patriotism and it hurts when anyone questions it. We are all Irish whether we play for the North or the Republic, and just because we speak with a Liverpool accent or a Manchester one makes no difference. When I was first picked it was not pound signs that flashed before my eyes but the shamrock.'

A strong defence from the Liverpool-born player - which is what Bingham will need if 'Aldo' translates his fury into stirring deeds on the pitch. A draw will be enough to trigger outlandish celebrations in Dublin should either Spain or Denmark triumph in the other group match in Seville. Parity there would require the Republic to win.

They are sure they can. 'Think positive' has been Jack's motto this week which is why he named his team two days early and why his video choice for his men was their

3-0 trouncing of the North last March, rather than last month's defeat by Spain.

That ransacking of their Lansdowne Road fortress was a rare blemish on Charlton's outstanding record, though if the worst comes to the worst tonight it is possible Ireland's favourite Geordie might announce his own departure.

NORTHERN IRELAND (probable team v Republic of Ireland, World Cup Group Three, Belfast, tonight): Wright (Nottingham Forest); Fleming (Barnsley), Worthington (Sheffield Wednesday), Taggart (Barnsley), McDonald (QPR), Donaghy (Chelsea), Magilton (Oxford), Wilson (Notts County), Quinn (Reading), Gray (Sunderland), Hughes (Strasbourg).

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Bonner (Celtic); Irwin (Manchester Utd), Phelan (Manchester City), Kernaghan (Manchester City), McGrath (Aston Villa), Houghton (Aston Villa), Keane (Manchester Utd), Townsend (Aston Villa), McGoldrick (Arsenal), Aldridge (Tranmere), Quinn (Manchester City).